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The Green Room: What’s your experience of theatre at festivals?

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​

Gary Abblett is a 38-year-old jobbing actor with experience at the National, Royal Shakespeare Company, in the West End and on tour

Dicky Benfield is an actor in his 40s. He has worked in the West End, at the NT, the Globe and in regional theatres as well as appearing on TV

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

[1]

Peter Quince, 72, works in theatre and television

[2]

Jenny Talbot is 39 and has 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays

[3]

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked predominantly in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer

 

Annie I’ve only ever done the Edinburgh Festival Fringe [4]. I really enjoyed it, but haven’t performed in a show. I wrote a play there that was received well, but I didn’t have the slog of staying there and flyering and all that.

Gary My experience of festivals is very limited. They’re great when you’re in your 20s.

Jenny I’ve done one festival. Not for me, dear.

Annie I feel it’s a rite of passage for anyone in the arts. I’m trying Adelaide Fringe [5] this year so can’t wait to see how that is in comparison.

JonI did a couple of Edinburghs with the National Youth Music Theatre as a teenager. When I was a student I couldn’t wait to do the Edinburgh Fringe as a ‘grown-up’. I caught a viral infection and ended up in hospital. Everyone has an Edinburgh health story.

Albert I did a one-man show in Edinburgh nearly 30 years ago and had a great time. Then I returned about 10 years ago to direct a play for a comedian and had a great time, but I almost certainly couldn’t do it every year like some people do.

Gary One lovely thing I saw at Edinburgh was an Oxford University production of Journey’s End. Best production of the play I’ve seen. The students were perfectly cast and Osborne was played by a professor. It was very moving.

Annie The thing I really love about Edinburgh is that it’s a great place to meet industry folk and try something new, experiment and support each other’s crazy ideas.

Albert I think festivals focused on performance are a good thing. It’s just that when plays are only part of the whole, they can get rather pushed to the side.

JonLike Edinburgh, to be honest, which has basically been a comedy festival with a load of student plays and the odd big premiere at the Traverse for years.

Albert Exactly. Edinburgh is now all about comedy – or comedians trying to do plays in afternoon slots for a bit of extra cash and to ‘stretch’ themselves.

Peter There’s now such a wide variety of festivals that it’s difficult to generalise. I’ve done a young writers’ festival. Challenging, not enough rehearsal, but fun.

Too many tents without proper toilets for me

Albert I took the one-man play to other festivals. Too many tents without proper toilets for me.

Jenny Tents, ridiculously loud music, horrible loos, no clean people… yuck.

Albert Of course. Stratford was originally a festival: the Shakespeare Festival Theatre.

JonPitlochry and Chichester are officially called ‘festival’ theatres too, but don’t really produce festivals as most of us define them.

Dicky I think the whole Edinburgh stuff is great but at the other festivals – Latitude [6], for example – the theatre isn’t exactly programmed with any great responsibility.

JonJust chucked in a tent and left to its own devices?

Dicky Exactly.

Jenny I did a play at Latitude but we might as well not have been there. You couldn’t hear anything over the noise coming from the music arena.

Peter Not all festivals are open-air.

Dicky Absolutely. Vault festival [7] in London’s Waterloo is hugely varied. I went for the first time this year and I’ll definitely be going back.

JonSince we’re in the season of open-air festivals, any tips on performing outside?

Albert Put your understudy on.

Jenny Bring insect repellent, hay fever tablets and suncream.

Peter And obviously, have a powerful voice. But even then it’s difficult to compete with a jumbo jet.

JonIn my first experience of doing open-air theatre I was charmed to find a rain cape, tube of insect repellent and tube of suncream in my dressing room (Portakabin) on the first day. I was less charmed when I actually had to use all three in the same performance.

Peter Audiences behave in a different way in the open air – picnics, photographs and umbrellas.

Jenny And be prepared for members of the audience fainting and collapsing during the show – and having to carry on while the St John Ambulance folk are saving people’s lives.

Dicky It’s easier to watch an England match, though.

JonI’m not sure I’d want to have a big screen in my eyeline during a crucial moment…

Jenny Also, you can see the audience so clearly – and you notice how many old chaps like a snooze on a matinee.

Peter I take it you’re talking about the actors, Jenny?

Jenny Them too.

Dicky Wasn’t there a bloke caught pleasuring himself at Regent’s Park [8] last year?

Jon Well, at least he was enjoying the show…

Jenny It’s a lovely atmosphere doing open-air theatre, but mainly in good weather. When it’s raining, not so much.

Peter I’ve lain asleep in a A Midsummer Night’s Dream in pouring rain while the audience was under cover – I was young.

Albert Did the critics say you were too wet?

JonI did Alice in Wonderland in the open air and we had two actors playing Alice. One of them got rained on and the other had brilliant sunshine – without fail. It was uncanny.

Jenny Blessed by god! [9]